It has long been observed that toxic heavy metals at different concentrations can induce root hair development in plants. In oilseed rape we studied ethylene levels and root hair initiation under Cd2+ stress. Growth of the primary root was inhibited but close to root tips the development of subapical root hairs was significantly stimulated by Cd2+ at 30 μM. Versus the control, the distance between the root tip and the root hair zone and the length of the epidermal cell in the elongation zone were significantly reduced by Cd2+ at the same concentration. Exogenous application of Cd2+ and 1-aminocyclopropane-1-carboxylate (ACC) to roots had similar effects on subapical root hair development. Hair density increase and hair elongation in the presence of Cd2+ were reduced by the ethylene inhibitors CoCl2 at 15 μM and aminooxyacetic acid (AOA) at 10 μM. Exposing roots to Cd2+ caused a rapid increase in superoxide radical (O2 ·-) production in the root hair differentiation zone, and at the tips of emerging and newly formed root hairs. Cd2+-induced O2 ·- production at the growing hair tips was blocked in the presence of AOA. Our findings suggest that Cd2+-induced ethylene signaling may act upstream of O2 ·-. Cd2+ promotion of O2 ·- production may operate through an ethylene signaling pathway, and O2 ·- itself may stimulate root hair elongation.